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Supernatural: Asylum/Scarecrow

Shudder. Supernatural is certainly hitting all of my “creep” spots, and we’re only halfway through the first season. It makes me wonder what other nightmares are in store for me in the future…

Episode 10: Asylum

Creature of the Week: A group of ghosts in an old asylum where some nastiness went down many years ago.

Body Count: 2 (the cop and his wife, right?)

Fake Credentials: Dean pretends to be a reporter and introduces himself as Nigel Tufnel. I love a good Spinal Tap reference. However, it makes me think about the writers’ purpose in using actual names for the faked credentials. Dean certainly isn’t thinking this through, because someone could recognize the name, thus destroying his ruse. So I have to think the writers do it for the insider-joke-chuckle factor, which is fun, but doesn’t serve the story. Just a thought.

Abandoned asylums. A treasure trove of creep, just waiting to happen. Working asylums have a pretty solid creep factor as well (see the Monk episode in which Monk is sent to a psych hospital and made to think he’s really crazy when he uncovers a murder). The matters of the mind remain shrouded in mystery, even as we make further scientific advances. When people are having genuine psychiatric problems, it’s naturally scary because (a) we don’t know exactly why, and (b) if it’s such a mystery, it could happen to us, too.

So now remove all the people, make the building run down, dark, and crumbling, and create a history in which something terrible happened there long ago, and ta-da! Creepy.

This episode of Supernatural thus ratchets up the creep without even having to try right out of the box. And of course, during the teaser, a couple of cops go into the asylum to roust a group of teenagers seeking a thrill. One of them appears to get possessed by something, and then goes home and shoots his wife and himself. Eep.

Meanwhile, Dean and Sam are having some issues. Sam thinks they should file a missing persons report on Dad, since he didn’t respond when they were dealing with the trouble at their old house. Dean says Dad would hate that. Sam doesn’t care. They get a text message which appears to be from Dad, giving them coordinates and nothing else. Sam is skeptical that Dad actually sent it, since he’s a luddite. Dean shrugs that off, since Dad has sent coordinates before.

But now the fun starts. Sam is annoyed that Dad appears to be sending them on a job, but goes along. They learn about the asylum and the cop, and so Sam poses as a patient and goes to see a psychiatrist whose father was the psychiatrist at the asylum before it closed. He presses the psychiatrist for info, but the psychiatrist gets Sam talking about Dean. The camera cuts away before Sam can really say much, but the implication is that there are deeper issues there. Which we know already, and are waiting for it all to boil over.

Fast forward (because the details of this case aren’t in any way remarkable) to the climactic moment, deep in the asylum, when the ghost of the old doctor, who was trying to heal his patients by making them really angry, touches Sam and makes him really angry. Sam attacks Dean, saying awful things about how Dean shouldn’t order him around, and how Dean does just what Dad tells him, and Sam is sick of it, etc. etc. He shoots Dean with the rock salt rifle, and he now has Dean on the ground beneath him, and things get serious. Dean gives Sam a gun, and goads Sam to shoot him. Of course, we’re sure that Sam won’t shoot Dean, that he’ll realize what he’s doing and back down, but…wait a second, Sam pulls the trigger! Thankfully, the gun isn’t loaded, and Dean uses the moment to get the upper hand.

Later, Sam apologizes, telling Dean that he didn’t mean any of what he said. Dean says, “You didn’t?” but it’s clear that he’s deeply bothered by what took place. Sam asks, “do we need to talk about this?” and Dean says, “No, I just want to get some sleep.”

The import of this episode — like many of them — isn’t the creep of the week. It’s what the creep of the week does to the relationship between Dean and Sam. So often, the creep of the week provides a vehicle for one of the brothers to reveal feelings that they would otherwise deny having. It could feel repetitive, but so far it’s working, probably because it’s easy to buy that these two guys have real issues and it’s going to take a while to air them all out and resolve anything.

Especially when Dad calls at the end of the episode.

Episode 11: Scarecrow

Creature of the Week: A Norse god who inhabits the body of a scarecrow in an orchard; the locals deliver up a man and a woman once a year as a sacrifice so that their farms continue to thrive.

Body Count: 4 that we see, and indicated that there have been many more (2 per year, going back many many years)

Fake Credentials: Ha! Didn’t I just say (yes, I did, up above) that Dean would get into trouble using actual names as fake names? Well, here he introduces himself as “John Bonham,” and the local squints at him and says, “Isn’t that the drummer for Led Zeppelin?”

If you thought abandoned asylums were creep-tastic, how about this next episode? A scarecrow made out of a dead body that comes to life in the middle of an orchard at night? Not only that, but a group of in-the-know townsfolk who spout about the “greater good” and the “good of the many” in deadened voices as they serve up sacrifices to protect their prosperity? Shudder shudder. Well played, Supernatural. Well played.

While Asylum had a creep of the week that essentially existed only to further the larger character arc, Scarecrow‘s creep of the week holds its own as a story. The gist: A small Indiana town thrives because it sacrifices a man and a woman every April to a Norse god who inhabits the body of a scarecrow hanging in an orchard. The townsfolk willingly serve up wayward travelers as sacrifices and then enjoy the fruits of the sacrifice. Along the way, Dean screws up this year’s sacrifice (on purpose), which leads to him being caught to be sacrificed along with the niece of one of the couples in town — because, after all, as her aunt says, “sacrifice means giving up something you love for the greater good.” In the end, the scarecrow takes the couple instead. This is an episode full of great horror tropes and moments of shock (like when Dean opens the door at the historical society and gets a rifle butt to the face because the town historian is in on it too).

I summed that up quickly, because while the creep of the week was great, the emotional character arc was even better. The episode begins with Dean’s phone ringing while the boys are asleep. Sam picks it up, and it’s Dad. He tells Sam that they need to stop looking for him, that he’s closing in on the thing that killed Mom and Jess, and he doesn’t want the boys coming to help him because it’s too dangerous. Instead, he wants to send them on another job. He tells Sam it’s an order, which pisses Sam off, but when Dean gets the same message, he stops protesting and agrees.

The boys head out to Indiana to figure out what’s happening to these couple disappearing on road trips during the same week every year, but they aren’t in agreement about it. Sam wants to say the hell with the job and go out to California and find Dad. Dean thinks they should follow Dad’s orders. Ultimately, Sam gets out of the car and Dean drives off without him, both brothers steaming mad.

Sam hitchhikes. He runs into a woman hitchhiker, and they bond over the fact that they want to live their own lives, and not the lives that their families want them to live. Meanwhile, Dean investigates the job and grumbles about how things would be smoother with Sam around. In a moment of maturity, Dean calls Sam to tell him he misses him, but that he should go and live the life he wants to live, that he admires Sam for his ability to stand up to Dad and pursue his dreams. Sam gets misty-eyed, as do every female member of the television audience. But then Dean gets caught, and when Sam can’t reach him, he ditches his lady hitchhiker friend and goes to Dean’s rescue.

And then the writers don’t pull any punches. Sam gives Dean a little speech that might be over-the-top but I loved it anyhow. He says that he’s sticking with Dean, because “You and me. We’re all that’s left. So if we’re going to see this through, we’re going to do it together.”

So now we have reunited brothers, who’ve both admitted to each other that they need each other. That’s serious progress. What next?

The holy shit moment. I had been thinking that it was awfully convenient that Sam happened to run into a girl who was having the same emotional issues that he was having, so they could talk it over and Sam could have his revelations. I was willing to let it go, because that’s what happens in writing. But then, as it turns out, itwas awfully convenient. Too convenient. The girl is somehow evil, which we find out when she slits the throat of a guy who’s giving her a ride, drains his blood into a cup, and talks to the cup about how she could have stopped Sam, or taken them both. She ends her conversation with “Yes, father.”

Who is the father?!?!?!

Next up: Faith and Route 666

 

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Posted on May 4, 2012, in Television and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Asylum did have a contrived plot for the boys to work out their feelings. It happens pretty often. It doesn’t get too annoying. Why? Because what works about this show is Sam and Dean.

    Especially Dean, because he is so emotionally constipated and the audience likes watching him struggle with FEELINGS. Discovering where his loyalties lie is a big theme in season 1.

    I like following along through your season 1. 1 and 2 are still my enduring favorites.

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